A good friend recently reached out to me and asked me a very important question.
Is it safe to eat at Chick-Fil-A if you or your child has a peanut allergy?
In our world of peanut allergy education, we have been told by the world’s leading allergist, Dr. Robert Wood, of Johns Hopkins Childrens Medical Center, to avoid peanut oil at all costs.
If your child has a peanut allergy, it is not safe to eat Chick-Fil-A and it does not matter that they use “highly refined peanut oil.” Using any peanut oil is a risk for your child and a risk that, in my opinion, is just not worth taking.
Peanut oil manufacturing can be misleading.
The “safety” of peanut oil depends on how the oil is extracted from the actual peanut. Extraction can be done in two ways, a chemical extraction or an expeller (or “cold-pressed”) extraction method. A chemical extraction method is just how it sounds. Peanut oil is extracted, using chemicals and high-temperature distillation at extremely high temperatures above 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
The expeller extraction method uses mechanical methods with an expeller device (device used for squeezing), at temperatures ranging from 150 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. The expeller method is often referred to as “cold-pressed” not because the process is actually cold, but because it happens using lower heat than the high heat required for the chemical process.
At the end of both extractions, you end up with peanut oil. The oil then goes through several other processes that “clean” the oil and condition it for color and for optimal shelf life in stores and restaurants.
There have been several studies that have analyzed and compared the protein content of peanut oil that is extracted and purified chemically versus the expeller or “cold-pressed” method. When you look at all of the studies available collectively, they have indicated conflicting results.
Some state that chemically extracted oils (highly refined) have negligible protein content (quantities so small that they can be ignored) and are not associated with reactions when consumed by people with peanut allergies and that expeller or “cold-pressed” oils do contain the peanut protein and CAN lead to allergic reactions.
Still, other studies (Olszewski et al., 1998) acknowledged by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), found that all refined peanut oil contained trace proteins that were the same as those found in crude peanut oil that could cause an allergic reaction. The summary discusses that the levels of peanut protein varied due to differences in both the refining processes at different plants and locations AND the detection method that was used by the plants to screen their product afterward.
I wish that I could tell you that all of this information means that its safe to run and eat at restaurants that use highly refined peanut oils. Unfortunately, the only thing that these studies did was teach us that we can not trust “highly refined” peanut oil to be safe. We can only count on it being inconsistent. And when foods are inconsistent, they are a potential danger for our allergy children.
The food industry is not black and white. There is a LOT of variability in food manufacturing plants, their operating procedures and labeling. Currently, there are no laws in place requiring that every, single batch of peanut oil be tested by anyone certified to make sure that “highly refined peanut oil” is actually highly refined and free of peanut proteins.
The best decision you can make for your child is to choose a restaurant that does not use any kind of peanut oil or product. They are out there! If you can’t find them, message me! For more information on this topic, please refer to the sources listed below and consult with your family’s allergist.
Happy, Healthy Eating!
Fraser, H. (2011) The Peanut Allergy Epidemic What’s Causing It and How to Stop It. New York: Skyhorse Publishing.
Young, M. (2006) The Peanut Allergy Answer Book, Second Edition. Massachusetts: Fair Winds Press.
Our family allergist, Dr. Robert Wood, Johns Hopkins Children’s Medical Center.